Truth be told, aside from Marvel’s Endgame/Far From Home one-two punch, this year’s big-screen blockbuster offering has been a little, well, underwhelming. Speaking generally, one of the biggest problems is that many of the silly season’s big hopefuls have lacked one crucial ingredient for a successful summer movie: fun.
And so we come to Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw – a relatively late entrant into the 2019 blockbuster race, but a welcome one. Spinning off from the main series, this action-packed buddy movie sees the titular double act (played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Jason ‘The Stath’ Statham) breaking away from the main gang and building on the considerable chemistry they displayed in Fast & Furious 8.
Let’s be honest: anyone planning to watch this movie is hardly going to be shuffling into the cinema expecting delicately nuanced performances or Shakespearian-style dramatics. Much like the last few franchise chapters, Hobbs & Shaw is loud, bombastic and absolutely preposterous – basically, everything you expect from a Fast & Furious movie at this point. It’s a proper, unashamed action blockbuster. It also has a much bigger sense of humour than previous outings, too. Put simply, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
The plot should give you some idea that we’re a long way from the more grounded, Point Break-y origins of the franchise here. Working on behalf of shadowy organisation Eteon, bionically enhanced terrorist Brixton Lore (Idris Elba) is planning to unleash a “programmable” virus capable of killing millions. The virus is narrowly recovered by MI6 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby), who’s left with no option but to inject herself with it in order to escape.
Man-mountain DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Johnson) and ex-special service antihero Deckard Shaw (Statham) – who also happens to be Hattie’s big bro – are begrudgingly partnered up to bring the now-rogue operative in. And thus kicks off a race-against-time mission to find Hattie, keep her out of Brixton’s hands and extract the virus before it kills her and becomes contagious. Trouble is, Eteon has its sneaky fingers in a lot of pies – including the media – and it’s not long before our heroes find themselves outlaws, too.
If that sounds derivative, it absolutely is, with the film’s story most prominently taking a lot of its cues from the Mission: Impossible franchise – the virus strand is straight out of M:I-2, while the villainous syndicate and disavowed agents angle is heavily reminiscent of Rogue Nation. Heck, even the baddie’s evil scheme – to wipe out half of the world’s population for the good of those left behind (“Genocide, schmenocide,” as Elba’s Lore so eloquently puts it) – is a Thanos Snap on a slightly less galactic scale.
But really, it’s just an excuse to showcase the two leads’ bickery banter, a couple of hilarious cameos and some increasingly ludicrous – and incredibly impressive – action set-pieces. Moreso than any film bearing the Fast moniker yet, Hobbs & Shaw leans into the comedy of it all, with a healthy dose of knowing, tongue-in-cheek humour.
In their respective (re)introductions, Johnson’s Hobbs describes himself as an “ice-cold can of whupass”, while Statham’s Shaw refers to himself as a “champagne problem” before smacking about a group of goons with a weaponised bottle of bubbly. The two leads are clearly in on the joke (even The Rock’s trademark eyebrow raise is the butt of one particularly inspired moment of mockery) and are both having fun trading jibes.
They are a compelling onscreen partnership – Johnson is more than happy to poke fun at himself, while it’s Statham’s most likeable performance since Spy. And whenever the macho posturing threatens to get too much, Kirby’s clinical, cockney-accented badass is there to pierce the bravado (“I don’t have time for your alpha male shit right now,” she snaps at one point).
The action itself is certainly no joke, mind. Under the steady hand of stuntman-turned-director David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2), the set-pieces – from a thumping early car chase through the City of London to a thrilling final battle in rural Samoa – come thick and fast, while the bruising, expertly shot fights have been given a slick, John Wick-style upgrade.
The main quartet all put in fiercely committed shifts when it comes to the physical nature of the roles, but it’s Kirby who particularly impresses – a relative newcomer in action terms, she more than holds her own against some of the genre’s biggest names. Elba, too, sells his role as a self-titled “Black Superman” – mixing turbo-charged scenery smashing with some unexpected moments of sympathy.
In fact, what’s most surprising is just how sweet the film can be. However you feel about the Fast & Furious movies, the one thing they’re not is mean-spirited – one of the major draws for fans is the focus on family; mostly, the family that you make for yourself. Nodding to its own heritage but once again taking its own road, Hobbs & Shaw instead zeroes in on the fact that blood is thicker than water.
So whether it’s Shaw, or “Dex”, reconnecting with his estranged sister, or Hobbs rediscovering his roots halfway across the world, there’s something entirely relatable among all the thunderous action. Put it this way: it’s the two lads’ mums – small but memorable roles for Lori Pelenise Tuisano and Helen Mirren as Ms Hobbs and Ms Shaw respectively – who absolutely steal the show.